Richard E. Vollertsen, of the Alaska Injury Law Group, has announced the settlement of a medical malpractice claim against the Alaska Native Medical Center (“ANMC”) on behalf of his client, Mardi Strong. Ms. Strong, a member of the Yakama Indian Tribe, sought care at the ANMC Emergency Room and the health system’s Family Medicine Clinic on three occasions while suffering from cellulitis and sepsis. Her condition, however, was misdiagnosed as shingles. As a result, she suffered dry gangrene in all four limbs, which had to be amputated.
Ms. Strong’s claim was asserted under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), and was defended by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in a trial in March, 2018 before Judge Timothy M. Burgess of the United States District Court in Anchorage. The parties reached a settlement while awaiting the Court’s decision.
Mr. Vollertsen explained that, “This litigation brought to light a number of patent inadequacies in the ANMC health care delivery system.” He listed the following concerns that were brought out in the case: inadequate peer review and quality assurance procedures; the hospital’s failure to adopt the international consensus guidelines in the Surviving Sepsis Campaign adopted by the nation’s hospitals many years prior; placing false and inaccurate records in a patient’s chart; inadequate continuity of care for patients; and the failure to train personnel to recognize the critical presenting signs and symptoms of sepsis.
He further explained that, “The facts in this case represent only one example of the nationwide failure of the IHS to provide quality health care in Native American hospitals and facilities in 36 states, from Oklahoma to California, from Tennessee to Alaska. This is not an aberration or a one-off event. I have handled these cases from the beginning of my career, and the very same issues exist today as when I began my practice. Mardi Strong is but one victim of this failed system. Tragically, she won’t be the last unless a wholesale shift in the medical culture of this system occurs.”
Mr. Vollertsen stated that, “Under existing law, none of the care providers can be sued in their individual capacity, and the ANMC facility has no financial obligation to pay a judgment in these cases. The ANMC, similar to the many other Native American hospital facilities operated by the IHS, is essentially an ‘accountability free zone,’ as neither the care providers nor the facilities themselves face personal or institutional liability or repercussions for their failure to provide medical care in accordance with well-known national standards of medical practice.”
“And, despite knowing that their errors caused her injuries, the DOJ and the ANMC facility forced Ms. Strong to wait over 7 years to receive the medical care which she should have been receiving from the time of her original hospitalization and loss of her limbs in 2011.” Mr. Vollertsen explained the plans for her future care, saying “With resolution of this claim, we can now help Ms. Strong obtain the necessary surgeries, rehabilitation, and prosthetics at a specialty amputation treatment center in Denver. This case has also demonstrated the significant limitations of care for those receiving treatment at ANMC after they are injured. There are very daunting limitations placed on patients in the Native American health care system that prevent them from obtaining the specialty care they need off the ANMC campus.”
The case documents may be found through Pacer: Case No. 3:13-cv-00165-TMB